Santa Ana Deli Looks Like a Bodega but Sells Killer Quesadillas
Amid Ecuadorian restaurants and laundromats that dot Stockholm Street and Irving Avenue, a Bushwick thoroughfare that has recently seen an uptick in new spots like Fritzl's Lunch Box and Verde Coal Oven Pizza, sits the Santa Ana Deli. Colorful blankets adorn the walls of this corner joint, and they soften the bodega feel; there are also a couple of plastic tables and chairs for people who want to sit and dine. The shelving that lines the back wall holds plastic hampers used to store sheets of fried chicharones and buckets of dried chiles, and there are sacks of pecans in the shell, re-bagged by the handful, which Santa Ana both sells to nibble and purees into a rich nut cream for the Poblano dish of chiles en nogada come wintertime.
The kitchen sits behind the counter, and the menu--a list of tacos, tortas, cemitas, quesadillas, and huaraches--is hand-painted on the wall above it, supplemented by paper notices advertising specials of pozole rojo and beef with verdolagas, a succulent that prefers cracks in the sidewalk as habitat. Families from the neighborhood share shallow bowls of chilaquiles verdes topped with avocado, radish, and salted beef. Rounds of carefully assembled tacos emerge from the kitchen. The food takes awhile: The antojitos are made by hand, the herbs are sorted and picked, the excellent salsas are tested and re-calibrated.
The quesadilla de la casa ($4) is one of the best selections on the menu, a creative slant on the usual cheese and chicharon or cheese and squash blossom model. The toasted corn masa is folded over a filling of crumbled bits of salty fried pork skin, shreds of barely-cooked zucchini, and sprightly green leaves of epazote, which lends the slightest herbal whiff of petroleum to the dish. The pulled Oaxacan cheese is not rubbery but fresh and stringy: long strands stretch from the interior, a money-shot of that action could star in any close-up commercial. The quesadilla is given time to crisp and form a crust, to develop textural panache and deep flavor; it's not whisked from the flattop while barely warm. And in this case, patience is a virtue.
Scarlett Lindeman is a Brooklyn-based writer, covering the city's best taquerias, fondas, and cantinas. She writes the ¡Oye! Comida column for Fork in the Road.